Is tomato paste controversial?

Joined Apr 3, 2008
I use tomato paste quite a bit when making tomato sauces.  But I hear from various people refer to tomato paste as if it's a shortcut or cheating.  A friend of mine is so proud of her tomato sauce and follows it up by saying "and I never have to use paste."  Someone else recently said that tomato paste was the secret ingredient to her sauce but not to tell anybody.  Sometimes even my husband asks me why I'm putting tomato paste in my sauce.

What's the big deal then?
Joined Feb 1, 2007
I wasn't aware of any controversy, or even objection, until you mentioned it.

Tomato paste can add body and a depth of flavor to even the best tomato sauce. It's no more cheating than any other ingredient.

Might as well say that adding salt is cheating, because the sauce doesn't taste the same without it. (I almost said "oregano" rather than "salt." But, you know......./img/vbsmilies/smilies/wink.gif)
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Joined Feb 8, 2009
I feel a lot better when I think to myself "I really don't give a sh-t what other people think" then I go about my business making the dish like I always have...............................ChefBillyB
Joined Nov 6, 2004
   I wonder if some of these snobby remarks come from people repeating what they'd seen on some cooking show.  I think a lot of times people just want to appear "in the know" by dissing a particular ingredient or method.  

  When I use tomato paste I normally cook the paste in the pan before adding the liquid, which is nothing unusual.  I also buy either the double or triple concentrate paste in a tube.  My "secret" for some of my tomato based dishes is either anchovies or anchovy paste, again...nothing unusual here.

   cheers to ya!

Joined Aug 13, 2006
I think tomato paste got a bad name because some people use it AS sauce.  They heat it up, throw some hamburger in it and put it on their pasta. (I know it's hard to believe, but i did have pasta made this way more than once when i was still living in the states.  Ok, no shame to them, they were people just learning to cook and had good intentions and i ate it without complaint because I can eat anything that i don't find intrinsically disgusting - like little black snails or entrails).   But since tomato paste is supposed to be watered down, if used straight and practically raw it can be pretty awful.  (i guess it would be like heating up a bowl of miso paste and calling it "soup")

But it can be really useful.  It's actually the only tomato used in the "official"Confraternity-of-the-Tortellino-protected ragu bolognese recipe - a spoonful of tomato paste. And who can be snobby about THAT?!  It can round out the flavor of things you add it to - in small amounts. 
Joined May 5, 2010
Perhaps it is because the tomato paste is not made from scratch as well.  You know how the purist thinks?
Joined Oct 2, 2010
What would the modern and classic kitchen be without tomato paste?

I always have a tomato paste in a tube in my fridge. When you have a nice "jus" from frying meat or even cooking vegetarian dishes, deglaze if necessary and... squeeze a minimum of tomato paste in, just enough to prevent the jus to run around on your plates. And, it gives a much deeper taste without overpowering the rest. And, a tube is very economical, you squeeze out what you need.

It is true though that tomasto paste can have a very nasty sour taste. Isn't that why they put it in at the beginning of most recipes to get rid of the sourness after frying it a little?
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Joined Feb 1, 2007
Intereting coincidence: I was just watching a repeat of a Lidia's Italy episode. In it she not only used tomato paste, she enumerated many of its benefits, and stressed that it should be a standard pantry ingredient.

Anyone want to argue with Lidia Bastianich?
Joined Nov 2, 2009
I don't have strong feelings on the issue, but can see both sides.  In a sense, using tomato paste might be a bit of a cheat if you market your meal as "made from scratch."  To me, that means that each ingredient begins in the simplest and most natural state available to the kitchen, or is otherwise a common cooking ingredient that has not been pre-mixed or specially processed.  Obviously, some ingredients must be processed or mixed to be available to the kitchen, for example, anchovies, baking powder, and even flour, but I would not consider these "specially processed".

I just looked at a can of Contadina tomato paste, believing it to be a national brand, and found only one ingredient:  Tomatoes

Arguably, tomatoes are available to the kitchen in a simpler form than paste.  Sauce can be cooked down.  So, if the use of store-bought, preprocessed tomato paste was banned in cooking competition, I would not argue the point.  And if a purist raises a brow over the opening of a can of tomato paste, I would understand.

In the end, a close call and an interesting discussion, in my opinion, and perfect for those with the time to debate such things (and make their own tomato paste).

Now, if I could figure out where I set the Lipton Onion Soup mix, I could finsh my "homemade" meatloaf.....
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Joined Feb 1, 2007 "made from scratch."   To me, that means that each ingredient begins in the simplest and most natural state available to the kitchen

Sounds good on the face of it, Buckeye. But the question remains: where do you draw the line?

There are people, even some on this list, who do, indeed, mill their own flour, for instance, and who make their own condiments (i.e., ketchup, mustard, mayo, harissa, curry paste, etc.). Does that mean buying a bag of flour excludes you from scratch cooking?  

Carl Sagen used to say, "If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, first create the universe." Overstating it? Perhaps so. But the point is valid.

On the other hand, there's the complaint voiced by my former daughter-in-law who recieved a copy of the Gourmet Menu Cookbook as a wedding gift. She hated it, because "in order to make something, you have to make other things first." She wouldn't use the book, but wouldn't give it to me, either. Which tells you more about her than you care to know. But I digress.

Ultimate, what anyone uses in the kitchen is a matter of personal choice. What I get tired of (and, I suspect, this is what KK ran into re: not using tomato paste) are the cooks who proclaim their moral superiority based on their choices vs someone elses.

Now, if I could figure out where I set the Lipton Onion Soup mix,

Do I have to do everything for you?  It's right there in the lower cupboard, right behind the cans of tuna. /img/vbsmilies/smilies/tongue.gif
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Joined Sep 18, 2008
Let's see, I'm not supposed to use "tomato paste" because it is not cooking from scratch, so, therefore, I shouldn't use:
  • Salt, because I didn't mine and grind it myself?
  • Pepper, because I didn't harvest and dry the peppercorns?
  • Wine, because I didn't pick, squeeze, ferment, blend, and bottle it myself?
  • Milk, because I don't have my own cow?
  • Beef/lamb/pork/etc., because I didn't raise, slaughter, butcher it myself
  • etc.
Joined Aug 21, 2004
If anyone were to look down on me for using tomato paste, I would ask them if they roast their own coffee. I roast my own coffee, but I don't make my own tomato paste. I agree with PeteMcCracken

Joined Apr 3, 2008
lol, seen so many tv cooks doing the bit of tomato paste seared in a pan I would have figured its a no brainer. Same for whole peeled or stewed tomatoes. I have better things to do then stand over a pot of boiling water for hours and dip tomatoes into it so I can peel them, just so i can get around to making what i really want to.  Unless I am canning  (not often).
Joined Aug 26, 2010
Tomato paste is frowned upon based upon how it is used.  If you take tomato paste and add water to "reconstitute" it to make a sauce, then yeah, you're really not doing a great thing. 

Let's see if we can all agree on one thing -- cooking tomatoes releases the flavor and aromatics, which are lost to the air and some loss occurs from the sauce.  Can we agree on that?

If so, then let's look at how to make tomato paste... you cook down tomatoes until so much of the liquid is gone that it becomes a paste.  The producers of tomato paste cook the tomatoes under vacuum (or maybe pressure, I forget) to allow the fastest extraction of the liquid.  This is for speed and efficiency, but the end result is that the time and temperature is lower than an open pot in your kitchen.  So, if time and temperature are the enemies of flavor in tomato sauces, and you've lowered the time and temperature required to extract the liquid, do you not end up with more flavor? 

I'm not sure things haven't changed considerably in the last several years.  I remember tomato paste as being harsh and somewhat bitter.  However, I can eat the stuff straight out of the (yep, I'm going to say it) can.  It's incredibly sweet rather than bitter.  Perhaps my memory has changed, but even the cheap stuff like Hunts has a very good flavor, which I just don't remember it having years ago. 

As always with tomatoes, the shorter the ingredient list (one ingredient being the best), the better results you should expect. 

FYI, my comments are meant for the novices among us.  There are several posters above me, whose opinions should carry much more weight, but I felt I had something useful to share. 
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Joined Nov 6, 2004
  I agree with your point Pete.  I plan on making my own pancetta this winter, but until then I really haven't been cooking from scratch.

  Did anyone mention flour?  Doesn't everyone have their own grain mill and wheat field?


Joined Feb 1, 2007
I can eat the stuff straight out of the (yep, I'm going to say it) can. 

Just our of pernicious curiousity, Gobblygook, are you using enough tomato paste that you can justify buying it in cans?

Like so many people, in the past, I would open a can because I needed one or two tablespoons. The rest went in the fridge, where it became a science experiment, and eventually got thrown out.

Far as I'm concerned, one of the greatest things ever gifted us by the culinary gods, is tomato paste in tubes.
Joined Oct 18, 2010
Amen, brother.

I'm living in the UK, where I've encountered tomato paste in tubes for the first time. Is it becoming standard in American grocery stores, too? (Discussions about MIA Ingredients notwithstanding)
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